Uneducated, co-dependent and powerless, women in Barga, MP are routinely limited to invisible roles. That is until Chandrakali Markam took the future into her own hands.
Born into the family of a poor Adivasi farmer from the Agaria tribe in Barga, a village in the Dindori district of Madhya Pradesh, life offered Chandrakali Markam few choices. Poverty, regressive norms and limited connection to the world beyond the surrounding forests left Barga’s residents struggling to think any further than the next meal.
“Life was very difficult in those days,” says Markam, now 35. “My brothers would travel very far in search of work. Without money to buy seeds our family’s patch of land stayed untilled,” she adds, her voice dipping as memories of depleted food stores and desperation surface.
Her story is not a unique one. Rain-dependent farming and land fragmentation make livelihoods untenable in this remote terrain. Uneducated, co-dependent and powerless, women are routinely limited to invisible roles: unpaid field workers, child-bearers. Taken out of school in class five and married off at the age of 11, Markam remembers tearfully protesting. “Father said, ‘You’re a girl. Why would you need to study any further?’” she recalls. It is not without irony then that it was Markam, along with scores of women like her from across the district, who brought prosperity and self-reliance to the impoverished community through small savings and self-help groups (SHGs).